LAS VEGAS — While food manufacturing companies say they feel more prepared to deal with another pandemic, 45% say they still don’t feel very prepared, according to research conducted by AIB International. In the Sept. 17 IBIEducate session, “Impacts, learnings and planning for a pandemic era,” Judi Lazaro, senior director of global sales at AIB, said the educational research company created a Pandemic Prepared Certification program to help bakers prepare for the future.

The certification program offers a set of standards for an effective crisis management plan, Ms. Lazaro said. AIB worked to incorporate concurrent challenges facing bakers such as upholding food safety standards, protecting worker health, executing crisis management plans, navigating supply chain disruptions and coping with intermittent operations.

“It’s not for the faint of heart,” Ms. Lazaro said of the new pandemic prepared certification. “It will involve a robust and comprehensive standard that begins with AIB conducting a remote audit for participants.”

Pandemic preparedness means having a written plan and reviewing it often, she said. It is important to assess risk, create actionable items and test your plan, she said.

AIB identified top misses among food and beverage manufacturers during the COVID-19 pandemic, which included not having a plan that covers a pandemic crisis scenario; not holding crisis management team meetings during the pandemic to assess if the plan is working properly; not putting PPE or chemicals through the supplier approval process; no consideration for expiration of ingredients; gaps in managing the integrated pest management program; not maintaining tools and the work area; not training site employees on changes implemented to the Food Defense Plan or the Food Safety Plan in response to COVID-19; using a brittle plastic as a divider; and not assessing risk during the receiving process.

Failing to have a plan in place to cover a future pandemic crisis scenario could cost baking companies, as 62% of food and beverage companies experienced an increase in operating costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to AIB.

Among food and beverage executives, AIB’s research found that 30% expect to see another pandemic in the next four years and 50% expect another pandemic in the next decade. If another pandemic crisis does arise, Ms. Lazaro advised holding crisis management team meetings during the pandemic to assess if the plan is working properly.

“Meet often,” she said. “Communication is key for a crisis management plan to work.”